Rohan Agarwal, Undergraduate Batch of 2023 After the euphoric victory over Australia in one of the
Aritro Sarkar, Undergraduate 2021
The Student Government’s term ended last week, and as Ashoka gears up for elections, The Edict sat down with the outgoing sports minister, Swarna Ajjampur, to talk about her experience in this role, how the ministry faced and got around challenges, and what is in store for Ashokan sports.
How has it been to be sports minister at Ashoka? What were the biggest challenges you faced?
It has been really fun, with a lot of exciting work. I especially loved working as a team with my peers and the various ministries of the Student Government. Further, this is largely my first step towards proper leadership in college, so that was a learning experience I thoroughly enjoyed.
A role like this inevitably brings challenges of its own. First of all, everyone was around my own age, and given my relative inexperience with leadership roles, it was hard to figure out how to delegate tasks to my team, without seeming too bossy and controlling. Secondly, communication with the administration is often a challenge, because they have a tendency to not respond on time, which affects the work we do. So breaking that communication barrier was an important challenge. Thirdly, Sunil Dahiya of the Office of Sports and Exercise, resigned in the middle of my term, so quite a lot of work was left incomplete, as we had no prior intimation of his resignation.
What, according to you, have been the highlights of your term?
One of them would certainly be the Ashoka Run. It is conducted every year, but this time around we ran for a cause, and managed to raise nine thousand rupees for breast cancer awareness, which we donated to an NGO in Delhi. Last year, the top three positions were held by men, so they got all the prizes, so this year we split up the categories into men and women, so both got equal prize money. Then there would be the launching of the first ever Ashoka sports mascot, the Golden Eagle.
Pitching for sports co-curricular to the higher administration too was a personal highlight. It was to impress upon them that sports too can count as a co-curricular, and even though it hasn’t been done yet, we’ve been working on a proposal for the same.
You were a part of Moksh, and in your manifesto last year you promised more sporting events, such as triathlons, and more community building efforts, such as kabaddi and tug of war with the staff, among others. Now, this didn’t quite materialize: any reasons as to why?
We did have one icebreaker event, which was the Undergraduate vs YIF event. We had kabaddi, gully cricket and dodgeball last semester too.
The thing is, we wanted to have a triathlon, but after the swimming championships and the run, we realized that the number of participants for such events wasn’t enough for a triathlon to be feasible. We want events to be inclusive, and for maximum people to feel that they could participate, so we didn’t feel like a triathlon would be the right event for such an aim. However, I do agree that we could’ve had more smaller events, such as table tennis. But the term was so short that we weren’t able to pull this off.
It’s interesting that you talk of sports being a co-curricular, because one has been hearing about this for a while now, and about how it has been in the works. So, what did your ministry do that your predecessors failed to? What is the status of the proposal you say you’ve drafted?
So, basically, right now we are working on a proposal. The aim is to provide credits to those who are already on sporting teams, and not make sports a co-curricular entirely. I’ve had a word with Justin McCarthy, who is in charge of the co-curriculars here, and he said to make this similar to something that is already existing, and pitching it to the higher management in such a way that the prevailing structure of co-curriculars remains the same, with our proposal getting incorporated there itself. Giving four credits, therefore, is a lot, because the aim of co-curriculars is to explain art and languages, among others. So even we’ve pitched for two credits per semester for people who give six to eight hours a week for their respective sports at Ashoka. It makes sense this way.
As far as grading is concerned, what we’ve proposed is that it be on the basis of participation and how regular one is for training and tournaments, you know, markers like these. We didn’t want to make performance a criterion to this end, given how it might fluctuate on given days and given circumstances.
You also brought up the question of turnout, and the larger problem of not enough people turning up. To that end, what I’ve observed is that there isn’t enough visibility and communication from the sports ministry itself. You came up with the sports newsletter, which was in November, and your last instagram post was in October last year. So, why is there this lack of communication from your end?
I think communication is a problem, and we need to work on it. The number of events that the ministry conducts itself is limited. I feel like there is no point in communicating anything when there are no events. So, I feel more work needs to be done on planning more events and communication will come automatically.
Having said that, I feel that in terms of outreach, we’ve done better than our predecessors. There was no newsletter, no instagram page. We started all of this. Even a website is being created right now for sports at Ashoka. To get a hang of all this requires a while, so yeah. We’re new to this and we’re also learning.
Fair, but do you think this lack of communication from the ministry’s end is a factor for low turnout at sporting events? Are the two related?
So for the Ashoka Run, the swimming championships and the UG vs YIF events, the turnout was good. We did a lot of word-of-mouth marketing for these, we launched the sports mascot and that itself was for the Ashoka Run, for which we had more than a hundred participants. Thing is, we conducted only three events because we wanted those three to be big, so I don’t think lack of communication is a major factor here. I think the larger apathy on campus towards everything is more to be blamed, and while I do not know how to get around this, it must be dealt with in some way or the other.
Do you think sports can act as a catalyst to bring people together and create a sense of community and oneness on campus? If so, how?
This is why having smaller events is important. For instance, after the UG vs YIF event, I saw lots of undergraduates and YIFs interacting and bonding, with sport being the common link. So yeah, it can definitely be used to bring people together. We haven’t done much towards that end, but it is very much possible. We could create informal WhatsApp groups consisting of people across batches who like to play, and are even having a word with the registrar about this, and about whether we could send out links for these groups to all batches, you know, to check the legality of all that. We have thought about this, and we absolutely believe that we could be bonding over this. Even now I see that during Agneepath, when the football and basketball teams are playing, people do come to cheer, and that sense of community becomes visible. The challenge here is to take this to another level.
As far as sports administration on campus is concerned, there is something called the Sports Audit and Arbitration Committee, of which you’re supposed to be chair. Now, does that committee even exist? If not, why is that the case?
The person who came up with this committee was a YIF. What happened was that he proposed this committee towards the end of his tenure here at the fellowship. So while the committee got approved, after he left, there was no communication from him to us, or to the university at large. He was in touch with Sunil sir though, but after a bit even Sunil sir left. This left us quite a bit in the dark. So, even though the house okayed the committee, there was no budget, and with the lack of communication overall about this, the committee didn’t materialize. Perhaps what we should do is take a look at the guidelines again, have a word with the admin, and make sure it is resolved.
Do you think such a committee should exist at all?
Personally, I think some of the things the committee does is alright, but largely, I don’t see the need for it. In my term, I’ve seen that in case any minor incident takes place, writing an email to us or the Office suffices, we look into it then. And for major incidents, there already exists CADI and CASH, with clearly defined mandates. Even if there was a rationale to the SAAC, the fact that it is inactive and invisible, with overlapping mandates in itself makes the committee redundant.
Personally, how did you manage your academics with ministerial work? Doing so is in itself a challenge given the amount of work one would have.
It wasn’t very tough for me. You see, I’ve played sports all my life, and so I’ve always managed to segregate my life into social and work related pursuits. That discipline is something I’ve had to have. Of course there was a time crunch, but if you love something enough, you’d be willing to give time to it. I had to schedule my time and all, and sometimes wouldn’t be able to sleep before the big events. But having a team of twenty dedicated, responsible and supportive individuals also was a big help.
Of course. Now, in the immediate pipeline, is there anything the Ashokan community should be looking forward to, as far as sports is concerned?
One of them would be the sports co-curricular, for sure. The proposal would be sent to the Vice Chancellor’s office in another couple of weeks, for them to consider and approve. The Dean of Academic Affairs too was quite supportive about this idea. If it is implemented, it would be great for all of us.
Secondly, the sports website should be up by the time the next minister assumes office. We already have a template for it ready, so a couple of months is all it should take. This website would have all results and updates, and we’d link it to the Student Government website as well.
Lastly, what do you think was your proudest moment as sports minister at Ashoka?
I don’t know…I think every moment was pretty fun, and something I’m quite proud of. I can’t pick one single moment, but launching the mascot with my team was quite remarkable. Further, I’m also quite proud of the fact that I am the first female sports minister Ashoka has had, given how male-dominated a domain sports is, especially in India. But that is not a special thing or category to me to be proud of, it’s just one of the few things I experienced.
I also had a word with Vineet Gupta about sports on campus, and he was quite receptive to our ideas. He even invited the sports ministry to be a part of the conversation around planning the infrastructure in the new campus, as far as sports is concerned. So yeah, that was exciting.